Project of IISHJ

Secular Humanistic Judaism Shabbat Service


Humanistic Judaism, Spring 1994 (vol. 22 no. 2, p32-35)


V’shuv Itkhem

Again with you, let us go out to see the light.

— Ehud Manor



There are two Jewish traditions.

The first is the religious one. It finds supernatural power, prayer, and worship important. It believes in divine revelation, eternal laws, and sacred rituals. It sees nature as less interesting than the world beyond. In Jewish history, it found political power and became the stablishment.

The second is a secular and humanistic tradition. It affirms people, human intelligence, and human dignity. It affirms reason, science, and human community. It finds no need to look beyond the wonders of nature. In Jewish history, it never found political power. It survived in the underground of ordinary Jewish life.

The second tradition is as important as the first one. The second tradition is our tradition. We are Secular and Humanistic Jews.




I believe in man.

— Shaul Tchernikhovsky



Judaism is far more than many people allow it to be.

Some people view it very narrowly, only seeing its religious side. Others perceive it broadly, emphasizing its ethical outreach.

But Judaism is more than theology and moral rules. It is more than parochial faith and universal sentiments. It is the living culture of a living people.

Judaism is family, love, and nurturing. Judaism is memory, roots, and pride. Judaism is music, dance, and humor. Everything that Jewish people, throughout the ages, did and yearned to do is Judaism.



Zemer Lakh

A song for you, my native land.

— Avraham Ben-Zvi



We did not begin as a religious denomination. We began as a nation. We began as a collection of families, clans, and tribes. We began as an ethnic group, with our own language, on our own territory.

We became a dispersed nation. We left our land. We traveled the surface of our globe. We lived among many nations. We learned many languages.

We changed into a world people. We became the citizens of many states. We recovered our homeland. It became our new center.

Each of us is part of an extended international family. Family is no trivial connection. It is our first connection. It gives us life and identity.



Am Yisrael Hie

The Jewish people lives.

— Folk Song



The power of people is the power of change. Circumstances never stay the same. People never stay the same. Culture never stays the same.

Judaism did not fall from heaven. It was invented by a divine spokesperson. It was created by the Jewish people. It was molded by Jewish experience. It was flavored by Jewish sadness and by Jewish joy.

Holidays are responses to human events. Ceremonies are celebrations of human development. Music and literature are the expressions of human needs.

Life is an evolution, a continuous flow of transformations. And so is culture. When circumstances change, people change, their laws and customs change.

A healthy people welcomes change. It understands its history. It knows its own power. It leads the past into the future.



B ’ele Hayadayim

With these hands, I have not yet built a city.

— Naomi Shemer



Human intelligence is the key to human survival. Jewish intelligence is the key to Jewish survival.

Blind faith is often so dramatic and so noisy that it diverts our attention from the quiet power of practical day-to-day decisions. Most people live by common sense. They test the truth of advice by its consequences. The ordinary people who learn to grow food, to build houses, to make friends, to fight disaster may easily be forgotten. But their undramatic efforts have more to do with human survival than priestly proclamations.

Jewish survival has a similar origin. We are so obsessed with the literature of prophets and rabbis that we ignore the unrecorded heroes of Jewish life, the people who day by day solved their problems and improved their world by adapting old advice to new situations.

Peasants and merchants, workers and bankers, doctors and engineers — all of these are heroes of the unacknowledged tradition of Jewish reason.

When, two hundred years ago, the Enlightenment officially came to Jewish life, it was not entirely new. Science is only the refinement of the practical common sense of centuries of survivors.



Mi Hakham

Who is wise?

— Sherwin T. Wine



Secular Humanistic Jews affirm the power of people. They affirm the power of common sense and human reason. But, above all, they strive for human dignity.

Pious people see themselves as weak and dependent. They see the world as a mystery too deep to fathom. They abhor change and search for everlasting guarantees. Divine power and divine guidance give them a sense of safety. For them, obedience is a small price to pay for eternal security.

People of dignity believe that they have the right to be strong and independent. They see the world as an orderly place to investigate. They welcome necessary change and are goodhumored enough to know that nothing is permanent. Human power and human guidance give them a sense of safety. But they are willing — even desire — to live with risk. They avoid childlike obedience. They cultivate respectful equality.

Human dignity is Jewish dignity. Jewish dignity is our dignity.



Ayfo Ori?

Where is my light? My light is in me.

— Sherwin T. Wine



Our past is a guide to our future. It is no sacred temple requiring reverence. It is no sacred book with immutable decrees. It is no sacred song with only one melody. It is a treasury of memories from which we can draw. It is a storehouse of wisdom from which we can borrow. It is a drama of endless creativity which we can imitate.

We are always the bridge between the past and the future. We are always the continuity between the old and the new. We do not betray the past by rejecting our roots. We do not betray the future by ignoring our needs. We pay tribute to both. We use the past to dream of our future.



Y’hi Shalom

Let there be peace.

— Siddur (adapted)

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Note on sources: The Jewish Humanist  was the monthly newsletter of The Birmingham Temple. The periodical Humanistic Judaism was the quarterly journal of the Society for Humanistic Judaism. The Center for New Thinking was Wine’s adult learning program beyond Humanistic Judaism. Selections from Wine’s books are appropriately cited.
All texts, photos, audio and video are © by the Literary Estate of Sherwin Wine, whose custodian is the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism – North American Section. All rights reserved.